3. Environment and Geography
- Natural Resources and sentiments
Environmental Issues in Focus
Environmental issues have not been as prominent in Iceland as has widely been the case in the other parts of Europe in past years. For a long time, Icelanders felt themselves to be threatened by environmental groups like Greenpeace and their campaigns against whaling. More recently, environmental issues have come into focus, not because of pressure from foreign environmental groups, but because of shifts in the local outlook regarding the exploitation of the nation’s natural resources.
Exploitation of Natural Resources
As well as its profitable fishing grounds, Iceland has valuable resources in the form of geothermal energy and hydro-electric power. People disagree about the utilization of these resources, with dissent between those who wish to utilize and sell electric power to the electric industry, or even for export, and others who wish to keep the nation’s natural life untouched and believe that these resources can best be utilized in other ways, such as through tourism. They point out that the world’s wilderness regions are disappearing and for this reason it ought to be possible to profit from tourism rather than damage the countryside for the sake of the power industry.
The power plant at Fljótsdalur, in the so-called Eyjabakki region north-east of Vatnajökull, had a great deal of opposition from environmental groups, outdoor clubs, and other interest groups.
Amongst other things, the environmentalists argued that the district formed a unique wilderness pearl of Europe and that thousands of geese traveled to Eyjabakki each year, staying there until they were able to fly again. Furthermore, the district was a suitable environment for reindeer.
Both local and foreign environmentalists have likened the district to the Yellow Stone National Park in America, and other national parks.
The National Anthem on the Highlands
The general public feel that the manner in which Iceland’s natural resources are utilized is of great importance. In September 1999 a group of conservationists came together by the site of the planned reservoir called “Eyjabakkalón” to highlight their concerns in action. The group protested the construction of a power plant through performance art.
Stones which had been arranged on the ground were turned over, revealing that they had been inlaid with the Icelandic national anthem, one word on each stone. Each participant placed their stone in the correct order, as marked out by goose feathers. In all, there were 68 stones, and one is able to read the Icelandic national anthem along a three kilometre stretch of countryside. This work of art was probably the longest in Iceland.
Electricity Supply Throughout the Country
Geothermal power plants located throughout the country provide Icelanders with the necessary electricity and drive the power-greedy industry.
Electric lighting was first illuminated in Iceland in 1899, and five years later the first power station was built in Hafnafjörður. The process was continued with the construction of power stations in most of the nation’s large towns.
99.9% of Icelanders have access to electricity from the main electricity grid running across the entire country: those not using the main supply are people who live in remote areas who have their own generators instead.
Iceland has a plentiful supply of geothermal energy and, with the exception of the east and southeast regions of Iceland, pools and hot springs are located throughout the country. Some of the hot springs gush, of which "Geysir" in Haukadalur is the most famous. Indeed, the international concept of a geyser is drawn from the name of this hot spring.
The most voluminous hot spring in Europe, the “Deildartunguhver” in Borgarfjörður, produces 180 litres of hot water (97°C) per second. It provides the hot water that is used to heat houses in Akranes and Borgarnes.
This kind of hot water supply is now used widely throughout Iceland, providing 80% of the population with hot water for washing and central heating. Geothermal heat is also used for cultivation purposes. Greenhouses are heated by geothermal energy, where various varieties of fruit and vegetables are grown, for instance peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumbers, even bananas, as well as all kinds of plant life. Geothermal heat is sometimes used for fish farming.
From the earliest times, hot pools and spring water have been used to wash and bathe. For instance, “Snorralaug” in Reykholt is thought to have been built during the thirteenth-century on the initiative of the chieftain Snorri Sturluson.
The largest swimming pool in Reykjavík, Laugardalslaug, is located by the “Washing Pools”, that is “Þvottalaugarnar”, where the women of Reykjavík once washed their laundry. This was before hot water was supplied to houses, and it was the hot water around the “Þvottalaugarnar” that, in 1928, was first used for central heating.